published Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Fury and faith

Gene Gambrell wipes his eye during Sunday's church service at  Apison United Methodist Church. Gambrell's home was destroyed in Wednesday's tornadoes.
Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Gene Gambrell wipes his eye during Sunday's church service at Apison United Methodist Church. Gambrell's home was destroyed in Wednesday's tornadoes. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Sunday school at Apison United Methodist Church is supposed to start at 9 a.m., but no one here is interested in sticking to the schedule.

Just outside the small, 80-member church, which kept its stained glass windows and white steeple in Wednesday’s storms, police enforce blockades on roads turned to rubble. Dump trucks and crews building power lines pass by.

But in the fellowship hall, those who make it to church cry when they see one another. Some haven’t showered in four days, but they hold each other tight for a long time.

An age-old question of faith is now at their front door, and some want an answer.

“Pastor, don’t the Lord control the universe?” asks Gene Gambrell, whose nearby home was shredded by a tornado. Now in his 70s, he and his wife, Roxie, will be forced to move to another state to live with their daughter. “Why would he let something like this happen?”

He and Roxie, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, planned to spend the rest of their lives here in Apison, their home of 50 years. But nothing is left, and it’s too late to start over.

“You work your whole life for something, and in five minutes it’s blown away,” he tells pastor Todd Chancey. “I don’t understand why.”

When tornados or hurricanes or tsunamis come, carelessly picking victims and turning neighborhoods into disaster zones, faith can spring alive. Those who haven’t talked to God in years can find themselves on their knees. Scriptures get dusted off. Offering plates and pews are full.

Spiritual leaders stay up late practicing their Sunday messages, knowing their flocks will hang on every preached word, sing every line of a five-stanza hymn.

Acts of kindness happen everywhere. Water for the thirsty. Food for the hungry. Beds for the homeless. People build roofs for those they haven’t met, spend hours in the hot sun chain-sawing toppled trees or digging through trash for keepsakes.

Good things are happening all over this region, pastors tell their church families. God loves us, they say, and we love each other.

But anger can surface, too, a question — often unspoken — about how a loving God allows tragedy without warning, without reason.

At Apison Baptist Church, across a field from the Methodist church, the pastor is preparing services for two church members killed in the storm.

“He called me and asked for prayer,” Chancey tells his church. “It’s the hardest things he said he’s ever had to deal with.”

Piano music fades and the conversation quiets in the sanctuary as Chancey prepares to read the names of the storm’s victims to the crowd. People are hungry for news. Cell phone towers are down. Phone lines are dead. And many church members are without power.

“Harry and Louise have 30 trees on top of their house. The barns are gone. They don’t know where their cows are,” he says.

“The Clouds’ house and the Colbys’ house were completely destroyed.”

“The Crowden family lost everything.”

“Gene and Roxie lost everything.”

“Connie and Bill, their whole roof’s down,” he says.

He has a stack of Wal-Mart gift cards in his pocket for anyone who needs a generator or food. He tells them to make sure to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the United Way for aid.

At 3 p.m. church members plan to build a temporary roof on one member’s home.

Sunday night they are getting teachers from Apison Elementary together to pray for the children.

“As adults we have a hard time getting through this,” he tells the congregation, crying. “But our little ones see the same things.”

A church in Roswell, Ga., has offered to take children from Apison to Lake Winnepesaukah next week. He says parents should send their children to give them a day away from the wreckage.

Then he calls for prayer, and the altar fills with people on their knees, sobbing. Others stand behind them, putting hands on their backs.

“Heavenly father,” Scott Neal prays for the group. “We thank you for another day. The evidence of your provision is all around us. We don’t understand why these things have to happen.

“We lay before you all our family and friends and neighbors, whose lives have been turned upside down. ... Give us beauty from these ashes.”

Like so many pastors Sunday, Chancey doesn’t really know how to explain the mysteries of the God he believes in. He doesn’t know how absolute judgment and absolute love co-exist in the Bible or how they balance out on this Earth.

He just chooses to believe the best, that God is good and all things, in the end, will have been for a reason.

This is what Chancey tries to echo when Gambrell looks at him, searching for comfort in his crisis of faith.

“It happens to good people, and it happens to the bad. God still loves you in the midst of this,” Chancey tells him. “One day the sun will shine again, and we’ll see God’s hand moved in this.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
inquiringmind said...

I wonder where wildman got his supernatural power to know about the existence of God?

Wildman ought to give these folks some peace and act according to his own advice.

May 2, 2011 at 7:11 a.m.

Wonderful article!

May 2, 2011 at 7:43 a.m.
librul said...

The concept that MORALITY comes from the babble cannot be supported by anyone who has actually read the cursed thing.

May 2, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.
chet123 said...

libertarian4freedom GOT NERVE TO lol NOW THAT IS FUNNY!

May 2, 2011 at 10:45 a.m.
Leaf said...

Morality comes from our genes. Those who cooperate with their community prosper. Those who don't are cast out and die, and don't pass on their dna. That's why you can see what we would consider morality in the animal kingdom among any species that lives in groups.

Morality, social mores and norms predate religion and civilization and even reason. That's why children too young to understand religion know basically how to behave and play in groups. And we can teach them to behave better and conform to our rules before they have any concept of religion.

May 2, 2011 at 4:55 p.m.
Leaf said...

Those who must consult a book to know what rules to follow have a condition psychologists call psychopathy. That's when the part of their brain that should generate empathy doesn't work.

May 2, 2011 at 4:59 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

L4F, do you even know any atheists? I did not "let my kids run crazy". All my children are considerate, polite and genuine. And, I detest "self-help" books. I require my students behave in school and treat each other and me with respect. I teach by example whenever I can. All this, and I am an atheist. (and I don't eat kittens) Some of the most evil people I know believe in a god. Some of the nicest I know don't. I also know very nice people of all religious traditions. Kindness is a HUMAN activity, and cannot be attributed to religion.

May 2, 2011 at 7:35 p.m.
HiDef said...


After reading many of your other posts I have a feeling my words here will be falling on deaf ears and an ignorant mind but I'm bored and have a few minutes to spare.

If you think for one second that Christians or religion in general came up with the, "Golden Rule", you must live in a box. Studies have been done in third world countries where nobody knows what the Bible is and no religion exists. Researchers asked the people in the tribes a series of questions in regards to morality and "what would you do" types of situations, and wouldn't you know it, the people without any gods or angels answered the questions exactly the same way your average everyday American would. So to say that religion owns morality is absurd.

You also wrote the following, "If you're going to be an atheist I suggest you ignore anything that comes from the bible, thus you are now free to lie, steal, commit adultery, kill, etc. Have fun."

Yep, never saw a good 'ol god fearin' christian down here in the south guilty of one of them about ignoring whats written in the bible, it's like the damn book doesn't even exist to most "Christians" around here until Sunday!

"Oh and Leaf, atheists and secularists also consult books, they love the self-help section."

Seriously? McKay's has a whole wall dedicated to religion. The Wal-mart in Ooltewah has a "spiritual" book store in it. If anybody needs reminding on how to be a good person, it's obviously, "your people", haha

May 2, 2011 at 7:47 p.m.
rolando said...

"Kindness" and the other moral virtues are not inborn human traits...except toward its own offspring and it isn't a given for them even then.

Humanity, without a basis for morality, is or becomes is every [wo]man for him/her/its self. Read "Lord Of The Flies"...

Self-based morality is "Me and mine first, the rest are second and subservient to me and mine". Only the law keeps them under control...and laws are morality based.

There is nothing noble or admirable about humankind in its amoral state -- the normal state before group/faith based moral codes were created to better the lot of the group.

That is when humanity first lifted itself from the muck of unrestrained least most of humanity did; a few pockets still exist today, mostly in third-world countries -- but we have a few here, too.

May 2, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

rolando, you are incorrect. Altruism is common in many animals, and is innate in humans under many circumstances. Social animals must cooperate to survive. Humans have a tendency to cooperate with those in their own extended family group, and religion evolved to reinforce and give meaning to this. As far as extending this altruism to people beyond the group, well, the results are mixed. Religions both require people to treat strangers as kin, and allow them to be mistreated or enslaved, depending on the circumstances.

Religion is not the basis for morality. If it were, then you would see a clear line between religious people (law abiding and always kind) and atheists (totally the opposite). Since that does not happen in reality, it stands to reason that morality and religion are not completely linked.

Thank goodness for that. I'd hate to think that everyone is my friend "because Jesus told them so". Pretty crappy basis for friendship, in my book.

May 3, 2011 at 6:46 a.m.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.